Best Job

The secure communications device for the Trump Era: a manual typewriter with spare ribbons and a package of carbon paper.


I was asked recently what was the best job i ever had.  Oh wow,  what a memory trip to review them all.

My first job was Sacker at a new Brooks grocery store – summer 1957, but that didn’t last long because i was nowhere near the fastest and didn’t make the cut when they reduced the staff after the opening frenzy.

Assistant at the Ector County Public Library.  This was my first real job, and it paid the princely salary of fifty cents per hour, which added up to a decent wage in 1957, when i was a junior in high school and worked Monday, Wednesday, and Friday evenings and all day on Saturdays.  Then full time during school holidays and summers.  I quite liked this job.

Counsellor at a Boy Scout camp – summer 1959.

Counsellor at Camp Longhorn – summer 1963.  I was not all that great as a counsellor.  It would have helped if i’d liked kids more.

Communications Security Officer, USASA – 1964-66.  No, no, not the United States of America Snowboard and Freeski Association, nor the United States Adult Soccer Association, nor the United States Australian Shepherd Association, nor even the UniSA Student Association, but rather the United States Army Security Agency, a now defunct branch of the NSA.  Parts of this job were dreadful since it was, after all, the Army.  However, i loved the part that required me to travel all over Germany and to a lesser degree into France and the Netherlands as a Crypto Security Inspector.

Teaching Assistant at Texas Tech – 1966-70 while i floundered around for three of those years with writer’s block, unable to write my MA thesis until suddenly i was able to write one that was more like a short dissertation.  It was here, at the expense of my students, that i learned to teach.

Instructor at Midland College – 1971-75.  I was Acting Chairman of the English Department ’63-’64 while the Chairman was off working on a doctorate, but i did not enjoy the administrative work.  What i very much liked was the teaching.  I also got high ratings from my students in spite of being stingier with the A’s and B’s than most of the other instructors. What i couldn’t bear was Midland.  Too much like Odessa.

Part-Time Instructor at Chabot College – 1975-80.  Just as i had got my toes in the door at Midland College, a serious oversupply of qualified and overqualified teachers hit higher education, and the California community colleges were quick to exploit this by hiring lots of teachers part time, at much lower wages and with no health insurance or other benefits.  We worked under those conditions because we were foolishly clinging to hope that eventually we’d be hired full time.  I still liked teaching, but a growing sense of being exploited began to fester.

Part-Time Assistant Manager of the Nut Tree Store at San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf – 1976-78.  I started as a clerk but rapidly rose in the firm to be the assistant manager.  Not much of a job, but with my work at Chabot, it brought in enough money to live on back before San Francisco gentrified and rents skyrocketed.

Part-Time Instructor at City College of San Francisco – 1978-80.  I quit the Nut Tree Store when i got this job because i could get along on two part-time salaries.  But then, my outrage over the exploitation grew so great that it undermined and poisoned my love of teaching.

Limousine chauffeur – 1980-84.  I quit teaching and got a job as a chauffeur, working first for Associated Limousines of San Francisco as a relief driver and then, after a couple of years, as a partner in Clipper Limousine.  This was an entertaining job because i got to meet a number of famous and/or interesting people, and i made a lot more money than i had in teaching, but there was no future in it.

Technical Writer at Qantel Corp. in Hayward – 1984-88.  My former landlord helped me get a job at Qantel in spite of my ignorance of computers, and i took to it.  I liked writing user manuals, got to be good at it, and made more money than ever before in my life.

Technical Writer at Bayard Systems in Hayward – 1988-92.  I followed my former boss at Qantel to this startup, where i was sole proprietor of all the user manuals for the company, which offered a complete suite of manufacturing and financial applications.

Senior Technical Writer at Oracle Corporation – 1992-1998.  Bayard flapped its wings vigorously but was never able to achieve cruising altitude, and as it was crashing, the principals networked to find jobs for all of us who’d worked for them.  Thanks to that, i ended up at Oracle.  Oracle was a difficult place to work, only made bearable by my prince of a boss, Rick Copeland, but they liked me and i ended up making more money there than ever before.  Better yet, i made some friends there who have stuck with me over the years since.  Thanks, Rick, Nancy, Kurt, Sharon, and both Susans.

And then, alas, my HIV infection progressed to the point that i had to go on medications.  Luckily, by December of 1996, the first effective medicine became available.  Unfortunately, it had hideous side effects, most particularly it scrambled the brains of its users even as it was saving their lives, and i went from being competent to being less and less able to perform my job.  So at that point i quit working.  Several years later, a second generation of the protease inhibitors more gentle to the brain was developed, and i was able to recover much of the brain function that i’d lost.  Thus, this website.

What was the best job?  The clear winner was Bayard Systems, partly because it was a tiny company, so all the employees knew each other and knew exactly what the others were doing.  If you had a question, you knew who to ask, and they knew you knew.  And in a small company there was a strong sense of cooperation with each other, so we were all very productive.  I became friends with two of them and am still in contact.  Thanks, Robin and LaVerne.

Even more important at the time were the two principals, Graham Jones, and Chris Stauber, both brilliant and both delightful men to work for.  Oh, and did they ever have me down.  They quickly learned that when i was asked how long it would take me to do something, i always factored in a healthy cushion, so of course the running joke became that they could safely slice a few days off any commitment i made.  Graham had a delicious dry wit and once remarked with a straight face and a menacing tone, “The point release is going out next Friday at 6:00 PM sharp, with or without the documentation.”  It went with.

But perhaps the happiest moment of my life came one day when Chris told me we needed to put out a technical manual and that all the raw data required for it was available in UNIX files but in nowhere near an appropriate format for a tech manual.  He sent me a UNIX file, i studied it for a few minutes, walked around the corner to his office, and told him that i could write a WordPerfect macro that would extract the information from it and format this data into a traditional tech manual.

A faraway look crossed his face, and after a moment he said, of course (knowing that i was a minor virtuoso with WordPerfect macros), but he could probably write a UNIX macro to do the same thing.

There was a beat, and with the faintest smile i turned on my heel but looked back as i left his office to see whether our rapport was as good as i thought.  It was.  He was grabbing his keyboard and the race was on.

An hour or so later, i ran into his office, but before i could speak, he shouted, “Mine works.”  So i was left to say, “So does mine.”  We burst into laughter and agreed to call it a tie.  I’d never felt so competent and have been tapdancing over that moment ever since.

I used my macro because the output was already in WordPerfect, which is what i used for the documentation, but yes, i admit that i did have to do some fine tuning on my race version.

What wonderful people to work for!  Such camaraderie!

Meanwhile, our winter rains have greatly augmented little Lynch Creek.  Here it is as a raging torrent pouring into the Petaluma River the day after a rain.

Lynch Creek




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  1. David Ogden
    Posted 21 February 2017 at 10:54 | Permalink

    Impressive resume, and beautiful shot of Lynch Creek. Graham Jones could do a California accent better than anyone I’ve heard before or since.

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